A new study on a male hormonal contraceptive injection sparked a discussion this week that drew focus to the kinds of side effects women experience from their birth control methods. The male study participants suffered mood changes, acne, and suppressed fertility post-trial. These side effects were viewed by the researchers, and experts, as reason enough to halt the study completely.
Women, unsurprisingly, took to social media to vent their outrage – these are the exact same side effects women experience on the currently available female hormonal contraceptives. They’re also the kind of side effects unfortunately frequently dismissed or played down by doctors. Many of you commented on our FLO Living Facebook page with your own stories and shared concerns about the burden placed on women to prevent pregnancy.
Multiple studies on female hormonal contraceptives have concluded that women do experience unwanted side effects. I was glad to see the reaction this week – women being honest about their experiences, demanding to be taken seriously, and saying “enough is enough.” Women do not deserve these side effects any more than men do. Every year new brands, types, and formulations of hormone-based birth control are released and women are pressured to use them. We are conditioned to believe that suffering is part of being a woman and so we tolerate more than we should, and instead we should have a zero tolerance policy on feeling bad in our bodies.
As I watched this conversation unroll, I wondered how many women know that these side effects – mood changes, acne, suppressed fertility post-pill – are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the negative impact hormonal birth control has on the female body. We are quite familiar with the short term, sometimes near-immediate, negative effects – like bloating, weight gain, mood swings and nausea – but fewer of us are aware of the long term impact of hormonal birth control, the kinds of issues it can be difficult to reverse even when you come off the pill, and can impact your long term health.
The long term side effects of hormonal birth control for women
- Damaged microbiome – hormonal birth control acts just like an antibiotic in your gut, destroying the essential microbiome balance. If your doctor prescribes the pill for PCOS specifically, you will find it will only worsen the problems of weight gain and insulin sensitivity, because of the impact on gut flora. Just recently research revealed the pill can trigger Crohn’s, a symptomatic disease of imbalance in the microbiome. The microbiome is a new frontier for medicine, and more and more research is getting published that shows a healthy microbiome is necessary for good physical and psychological health. Repairing a damaged microbiome, while not impossible, takes time. The impact of the pill on the microbiome will last long after you stop taking it without concentrated, focused actions to replenish good gut bacteria.
- Increased inflammation – if you are prescribed the pill for cramps, PMS, or other common period problems (as many women are), you should know that those issues result from hormonal imbalance and inflammation in the body. The pill does not treat these root causes, but can mask the symptoms you experience. This puts you at higher risk of the big diseases of inflammation – heart disease, cancer and dementia – later in life. You need to tackle cramps and PMS as soon as possible, from a functional medicine standpoint, with the right food and supplements.
- Micronutrient deficiency – hormonal birth control prevents the absorption of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. It robs your body of B vitamins, magnesium, and vitamin C in particular, which has short and long term impacts on your health. These are essential for hormonal health and can lead to infertility issues post-pill. Once you’re micronutrient deficient, and prevented from absorbing what you need even from additional supplementation, you are set up for poor physical and mental health. It takes a nutrient dense, targeted diet after stopping using hormonal birth control to replenish your body’s reserves and repair the avenues of absorption.
- Suppressed ovulation – research has shown that consistent ovulation protects women’s long term health, especially when it comes to avoiding issues like osteoporosis, heart disease, heart attacks, and breast cancer (all top killers of women). Hormonal birth control (except, sometimes, the hormonal IUD) suppresses ovulation. Suppressing ovulation for years, decades even, has long term consequences, even if ovulation returns shortly after you come off the medication. Exposure to synthetic hormones plus a lack of exposure to the body’s own hormone cycles is the root cause. Ovulation is important, not just for when you want to conceive.
- Masked reproductive health issues – the pill is not a real treatment for reproductive health issues – from PMS to PCOS. Hormonal birth control can help manage symptoms for some women, but it is only a band-aid solution. This can be dangerous, because it can mask issues long term, if women are not diagnosed prior to being prescribed hormonal birth control. Once you come off the method, the problems will return and potentially have worse symptoms than before, as well as becoming harder to treat and resolve. It’s better to tackle these problems head-on and not wait until you’d like to conceive or suffer the long-term health consequences.
I know that many women depend on hormonal birth control to avoid unplanned pregnancy, which is why I have already outlined the best non-hormonal contraceptive options.
If you are currently taking the pill or using another form of hormonal birth control, please follow my steps to transition off, as this will help you avoid the negative fall out for your health and a return of any symptoms you may have experienced before.
Always remember, that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this – the science of your body is on your side!
to your FLO,
Good things come in threes:
I want to hear from you!
First, do you use the pill?
Second, have you experienced side effects?
Third, everyone you know is hormonal – spread a little good ovary karma and share this article on social 😉
Is Your Period Healthy?
How do you know if your hormones are healthy? The answer is in your 5th vital sign – your period.
The color of your flow, frequency of your period, and symptoms you have each month can tell you a lot about your health. There are 5 different V-SIGN TYPES, and knowing which one you have will help you get healthy now and prevent disease in the future.